What’s an Asthma Trigger Journal, Anyway?

In my further attempt to adjust this blog’s chronology of information and because I’m guessing newbies to asthma would love to know why, exactly, I’ve compiled an enormous list of triggers on the tab above, today let’s talk trigger journals.

You or your kid faces a new asthma diagnosis.
You read a little bit about the disease or you’re lucky enough to have a doctor explain the basics to you (many of us aren’t, unfortunately).
Now you’ve got to figure out good asthma control.

The whole point of treatment is to reduce flares, especially the severe ones, right? Two steps accomplish that: avoiding what triggers flares and using maintenance and quick-relief medicines to prevent and treat the flares that do occur. Before you can ever avoid triggers, though, you have to identify them from a staggering list of choices (see: tab above). And triggers are different for each person. My kid may flare up if she laughs too hard, but yours may wheeze or cough when she smells perfume. That’s part of the great fun of a respiratory disorder like asthma, all the desperate guesswork you have to do.

But, wait! It’s really not that desperate if you take things task by task. First, talk to the doctor about allergy testing (and I’ll post on that topic another day). Pinpointing any allergic triggers helps enormously. Second, track all flares in a notebook and especially what happened before the flare. This is a trigger journal. It’s that simple.

Or not.

I had to make a very deliberate effort to pay attention and record AG’s asthma behaviors because, really, how often do I ignore my own little headaches or coughs while working, making school lunches, checking homework, and all the other tiny tasks that make up a regular day? All the time, that’s how often. So when her doctor suggested a trigger journal I had to lecture myself,

Okay, for the next few weeks (months? years? forever?) you have to notice whatever AG’s doing/eating/breathing right before she has a coughing fit or starts panting.

Then I told myself, *Wow. Asthma really sucks, big time.* But that’s a side issue.

The key to deciphering trigger journal notes? Recognizing the landscape rather than getting hung up on the details. The patterns will tell you more than the one-time occurrences. Here’s an example from my daughter:

On a very humid summer day when AG was four, a relative who shall remain nameless gave her a can of sweet lemon-flavored tea which she immediately gulped down. Within minutes, a coughing fit started – a classic asthma flare. After albuterol finally calmed the cough down, I broke out my trigger notebook and added the drink to her possible triggers. But here’s the confusing part – did she drink too fast? Was the beverage too cold? Did the artificial lemon flavor or the caffeine bother her? These are all possible triggers, so guess what I wrote down?

Yep, all of them. Over the next few months, I noted the same reaction when she drank milkshakes or icewater, but only when she drank fast. If I told her to slow down and take a couple of breaths between each sip, she felt fine and didn’t flare.

So now I could narrow it down. Caffeine does not trigger her asthma and neither does artificial citrus, but drinking any cold liquid very fast will, every single time. Who would’ve guessed? But the journal helped me discover it, and this is one trigger she can avoid.

That’s not true for all her triggers, of course, but every single one I identify offers the chance to change her life.

Previous related posts:
This is Asthma
Common Asthma Triggers
Common and Suspected Asthma Food Triggers

17 responses to “What’s an Asthma Trigger Journal, Anyway?”

  1. Claire says:

    Hello! I found you while searching for information about triggers. Do you anyplace I can download or print some kind of log for this?

  2. Asthmagirl says:

    I just used on of those spiral pads in my purse. There’s also an online asthma diary at National Jewish Hospital. Here’s the link:


    I hope that’s okay to do here… I used this a lot when I first got asthma. It helped me to think about it in an organized way.

  3. freadom says:

    I like the idea of asthma journals, however inconvenient the idea is. I think more asthmatics and parent’s of asthmatics should be encouraged to do them.

    I am impressed at how you deduced how your daughter responded to cold drinks. Many people would have simply decided the drink itself was the culprit, as many doctors do when a patient coincidentally becomes nauseous during a breathing treatment and the DR. decides the patient has an allergy to Albuterol so the patient can no longer use Albuterol for the rest of his life.

    Your way of thinking, your asthma journal, will definitely make your daughters future with asthma so much easier.

  4. Amy says:

    Ooh, that’s a great link–thanks! I think I’ll edit it into the post. What a fabulous resource.

    Hey Rick,
    I think my realization was borne of desperation, actually. One day while driving home from the beach she was hacking away while ALSO sucking down a milkshake and I was so frustrated:
    “Does this kid have to cough EVERY TIME she has a cold drink?!?” I yelled.

    Oh, wait a minute.

    And then I knew, lol. Took a LONG time to make the connection, though.

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